Jack Uldrich
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Unlearning Lesson #15: Cast a Narrow Net

Posted in Unlearning

It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” – John Wooden

Question #15: (This is a two-part question and you will need a pencil, a single piece of paper and a timer.) Part 1) In 20 seconds, list all of the white things you can think of. (Read no further and make the list.) Part 2) On the opposite side of the paper, in 20 seconds now make a list of all the white items inside of a refrigerator.

Surprisingly, most people can record just as many items on the second list—even though the universe from which they can select is decidedly smaller. Some people, in fact, find the second part of the question easier to answer.

Now can this be? How can people get just as many—or more—ideas from a smaller sample? Aren’t we always encouraged to cast a wide net?

Casting a wide net is, of course, often an effective strategy. This is especially true if time isn’t an issue (as it was in this exercise) because a wider net will usually yield a higher number and quality of ideas. But not always.

The key to understanding this paradox resides in understanding the issue of concreteness—which is defined here as focusing a person’s attention on a specific task.

This paradox is appropriate when considering the idea of a mentor. Over time many people have come to think of mentors as individuals possessing more knowledge and experience than themselves. It is natural, therefore, seek out mentors with these attributes.

To unlearn, though, I encourage you to seek out a reverse mentor—a person younger or more inexperienced than yourself. For starters, such individuals are likely to possess some knowledge you don’t. More important, in today’s in era of accelerating change, it is not always the quantity or quality of knowledge that is most important but rather the ability to bring a fresh perspective to the existing base of knowledge.

By providing uncommon insights on what may be coming next or exposing individuals and organizations to a new way of seeing an old problem , a reverse mentor can be just as valuable as an “experienced” mentor.

Like thinking of white things in the refrigerator, the life experiences of reverse mentors may be more limited but by identifying overlooked opportunities or spotting future threats to your business they just might make sure you don’t want to end up with egg (white) on your face or crying over spilled milk.

Homework Assignment #15: Identity at least two potential reverse mentors—one within your field of expertise or industry and one outside—who are either younger or more inexperienced than yourself. Meet quarterly with these individuals and spend the majority of the time listening—not talking.

P.S. If you would like to read 38 additional “unlearning lessons,” consider picking up a copy of my new book, Higher Unlearning: 39 Post-Requisite Lessons for Achieving a Successful Future. The eBook is now only $2.99!

Interested in some other free “unlearning” lessons? Check out these older posts:


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